New changes await for nontraditional households in FAFSA application

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid@@links [email protected]@is not known for its simplicity. Filling it out involves weeding through pages and pages of a complicated financial questionnaires, including estimating parental income to generate an “expected family contribution” for college expense, which in turn determines federal aid allotment. 

Things get even more complicated when you throw same-sex parents and divorce into the mix, as is the case for University of Oregon student Csea Leonard. @@[email protected]@

“Federal financial things are very complicated with same-sex couples,” she said, “and then when you add up parents splitting up, it can also be really complicated. Sometimes it’s really frustrating, especially with things like the FAFSA that are already complicated.”

But for students of unmarried or same-sex parents, the process is about to get clearer.

According to an announcement @@links [email protected]@made by the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, FAFSA will include an option to describe the household situation as “unmarried and both parents living together,” in addition to allowing students to indicate whether or not they come from a homosexual household by 2014.

According to a statement made by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,@@[email protected]@ this update will “ensure taxpayer dollars are better targeted toward those students who have the most need” by collecting a more accurate estimate of the financial situation of two-parent households.

Unfortunately for most students affected by the 2014 FAFSA change, this could lead to a decrease in federal aid.

Traditionally, parents who are unmarried or whose marriages are not federally recognized were not documented by the federal application. The new FAFSA policy would require the documentation of both cohabiting parents. For students whose secondary parent contributes a significant household income, aid packages will likely decrease.

Despite the impact that the FAFSA change might have on some students, Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships Jim Brooks doesn’t see the change having a significant impact on UO aid packages. @@[email protected]@

“I don’t anticipate any decrease in the scholarship funds that the UO awards,” he said. “The students receiving scholarships where need is one of the eligibility criteria may change, but the change in parents on the FAFSA will not result in a decrease of our scholarship funds.”

Maure Smith-Benanti, assistant director of the LGBT Education and Support Services Program@@[email protected]@ at the UO, believes government policies alienate same-sex couples and their children and will continue to do so until equal marriage rights are granted across state and federal lines. @@[email protected]@

“It’s a long-overdue recognition,” she said of the FAFSA change. “I think that until marriage rights are pretty standard and fair and equal across the board, (federal procedures) are going to continue to be very problematic to navigate.”

Because Leonard’s parents are now separated in terms of living arrangement, she will not be impacted by FAFSA changes. Regardless, she views the FAFSA change as a positive way of incorporating the children of nontraditional households into the political system.

However, she concedes, it certainly doesn’t make the paperwork any less complicated.

“It’s a step in the right direction, yes,” she said. “Does it make the process easier? No.”

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Sami Edge

Sami Edge

Sami is the Editor In Chief of The Emerald. Former intern at Willamette Week and aspiring international investigative reporter. Swimmer, writer, dreamer, reader, thinker, explorer and drinker of strong coffee.